Urhekar, in biggest move yet as Americas president, unites McCann Health NA agencies

Amar Urhekar: Bringing the McCann Health identity to life in America

Shortly after Amar Urhekar, president of McCann Health Americas, assumed his post in 2014 he laid out a plan to get McCann's North American healthcare agencies to work more closely with one another and with McCann Worldgroup, their sister consumer operation.

A set of branding and operational changes to be announced by the network this week could help him realize that vision.

As part of the branding changes, McCann Managed Markets, along with the three professional shops—McCann Echo, McCann Torre Lazur and McCann Healthcare (which is changing its name from McCann Regan Campbell Ward)—will tack on the moniker “a McCann Health company” to their names.

Operations decisions for those four, plus a newly minted fifth agency called McCann Pharmacy Initiative, will now also be made on a consolidated P&L basis.

The one P&L, Urhekar said, “gives all agencies and the larger region a broader talent pool, better infrastructure, breaks down silos and essentially helps us provide the ‘best in class' talent that is tailored to solve the client's specific problems and also provide newer opportunities for talent to broaden their scope/geography as part of their growth.”

One P&L is merely an operational term, Urhekar stressed. The offices will continue as independent organizations.

“The overarching strategy is to integrate,” he said. “This does not mean the individual brands/companies/agencies cease to exist. Rather, it further builds on the strong brand equity [that] each of our agencies [has] built over the decades and earned the trust/reputation with clients and within the industry.”

The four preexisting agencies were responsible for about $119.5 million in billings in 2014, according to MM&M data. (McCann HumanCare, which is more aligned with the McCann consumer agencies, had roughly $16 million in revenue in 2014.) Their clients include AstraZeneca, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline and Teva, among others.

New regional leadership positions have also been added. Hilary Gentile, currently EVP and chief strategy officer at McCann Torre Lazur, takes on the new position of EVP and regional chief strategy officer for McCann Health North America.

Dawn Serra, SVP and director of human resources at McCann New York, moves to the new role of regional talent director at McCann Health North America. Mike Lawlor, who played a critical role in the regionalization process, continues as CFO, McCann Health North America.

The moves, coming as rival ad network Publicis Groupe announced structural changes aimed at integration, are the most recent involving a branding change to the McCann North American health offices. In 2012 the same agencies placed “McCann” in the front of their titles to emphasize affiliation with the parent network. (McCann HumanCare had already been positioned that way.)

The 2012 changes were a step toward “embracing our McCann-ness,” Urhekar said. The current change of adding the “McCann Health company” moniker to the end of their names “helps further build the local, regional and global connection to McCann Health, our immediate parent company.”

Indeed, he sees the moniker assisting the domestic agencies in leveraging McCann Health, with its deep global footprint, in a stronger way. “Historically, the health agencies in the US have been fairly independent operating units,” Urhekar said. “Integrating them into one McCann Health company … helps build to a certain scale needed to perform at a higher level in a market like the US.”

Added John Cahill, McCann Health's CEO, “The last five years in healthcare communications was about diversification. The next 10 will be about integration and the ability to put things together in novel ways to meet the ever-evolving health and wellness landscape.”

Fostering more integration is what Urhekar has been striving to do since relocating from McCann Health's Singapore office to North America, in April 2014. The strategy he laid out for the network—called One Vision, One Mission and One McCann Health—is designed to get the NA healthcare agencies to collaborate “in spirit and from an operational perspective,” as he put it, as well as to bring the McCann Health agencies closer to the consumer operation, McCann Worldgroup.

“For me personally, [that] comes naturally because over the last 15 years in APAC, McCann Health has always been extremely well integrated into McCann Worldgroup,” said Urhekar.

There's already been progress since he laid out One McCann Health earlier this year. “Those interactions have increased a lot, and there are more integrated conversations, not just in McCann Health but in the larger McCann Worldgroup operation,” he said.

The network has also done some paring back. In early 2015, McCann RCW—the agency's West Coast office, in San Diego—was closed, Urhekar said, and the network opened a McCann Torre Lazur office in San Francisco to service clients based in the area.

“This is also a part of our strategic decision for MRCW [now McCann Healthcare] to focus on its NYC operation and yet capitalize on the need and access to MTL clients in [San Francisco],” he said. “On top of all that, in the spirit of embracing our McCann-ness, MTL SFO is cohabited with the MWG agencies in [San Francisco].”

Nevertheless, the fact that most of the health shops here in the US are situated apart from the consumer offices presents a challenge to integration. The professional healthcare, managed markets and the new pharmacy shop are spread out between New Jersey, New York and Canada, while Urhekar and McCann Health's global offices are situated at MWG's global headquarters, at 622 Third Ave. in Manhattan.

Urhekar's overarching mission for the US agencies is also something of a balancing act: He said he seeks to spur “seamless access to talent across geographies, connecting to create the right solutions for clients based on the problem, and yet [allowing the domestic offices to remain] equally and fully independent in their own right.”

Future benefits would make it worth the effort. Agencies will be able to more easily share partners and talent across the network and to tailor offerings for clients, Urhekar explained. “If I need a person with deeper oncology experience from one agency to have the flexibility of offering that to clients [of another agency]—as long as she's not [jeopardizing] time to an existing client—it allows for a lot of talent mobility … and for clients to say, ‘OK, I'm not dealing with a $40 million agency but a $150 million agency.' ”

The disparate offices can also be a source of strength. “It gives us flexibility in geographies with clients,” he added. “We live in mobile world. We don't need people to be tethered to a desk.”

Meanwhile, pharma and device clients are “very interested” in the principles of consumer marketing to sell their brands, he said. “Every conversation, discussion, debate on what pharma can learn from non-pharma has been superproductive and inspiring for the clients as well as for us.”

One manifestation of this is bringing McCann's Truth Central repository of data to bear on the experience of people suffering from disease. “We are invested in and building this practice of creating a deep bond with your customer and maintaining that bond, and that is agnostic of health, wellness, beauty or automotive,” said Urhekar.

It doesn't hurt that the McCann Health parent company is among the most awarded healthcare communications networks globally for its creativity. “Our North American agencies have already made their mark in 2015,” observed Jeremy Perrott, global chief creative officer for McCann Health.

Creative innovation, often with digital at the core, has made an impact at award shows both nationally and internationally, including at Lions Health in Cannes, France, and at the MM&M Awards, where McCann Echo took home the first ever Titanium Award for Best in Show for a digital animation video on behalf of Galderma's rosacea treatment, Soolantra.

The name changes and move to one P&L are designed to associate the domestic units with those regional and global successes a little more directly. “It's a natural progression,” said Urhekar. “Bringing this McCann Health identity to life in America—that's what we're doing.”